Friday, January 27, 2012

Hiriko - Foldable Compact Electric Car

How do you make a compact car even more compact? When you can make it fold itself.

Spain is set to begin production of a compact electric car designed by Boston’s MIT Media lab researchers called the “Hiriko,” meaning “urban” in Basque. What sets the Hiriko apart from other similar-sized compact vehicles is it can fold itself to reduce the already small space it takes up for parking. The compact design and electric motor was meant to address the issues facing highly urbanized cities today: traffic congestion, parking availability and air pollution.

The idea behind this compact electric car was the result of the cooperation between the MIT Media lab and seven other companies based in Basque which formed the Hiriko Driving Mobility project. The first prototype was revealed last Tuesday to the president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

The Hiriko design needed some creative engineering in order to end up with a 100 inch two-seater vehicle. With the electric motors and steering placed along the brakes on the wheels, the Hiriko makes for a very compact car indeed, whose systems are controlled digitally using a drive-by-wire system. Of course, the most telling feature of the car is how it can fold itself by raising the front part of the vehicle to mesh tighter with the rear part, making it wonderful for parking.

Folded, the car’s total length is decreased to about 60 inches, which means 3 of these can fit in the parking space that a normal-sized car would take. Instead of doors on the sides, the windshield of the car can be lifted up for easy entrance and exit. Furthermore, its short length allows it to be able to turn 180 degrees around its own diameter so you can navigate around packed city streets easier.

The electric motors are powered by lithium-ion batteries located on the floor of the car. It has enough juice to reach 120 kilometers or 75 miles before recharging. The top speed of the car will be set electronically to stay within city road limits so it might be better suited to narrow city streets than wide highways.

Other countries beside Spain are still considering production of the Hiriko. The plan is to lease the vehicles to residents as city car shares, or otherwise sell them privately for an estimated 12,500 euros or $16,000.

The folding vehicle was unveiled yesterday to the European Commission during the launch of the Hiriko Driving Mobility project. Spain plans to produce the vehicles and lease them to city residents, much like ZipCar or other city car shares. They’ll also sell the vehicle for approximately $16,350, reports the AFP.

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